Tag Archives: Rachel Held Evans

Not the mountain, the plain

Reading
Luke 9.28-43

There is a terrible cruelty to it. Baptizing them as children, teaching them in Sunday school, hosting lock-ins & game nights in youth group, encouraging their calls to ministry, and then, when they work up the courage to tell the truth about their sexuality, kicking them out. — @rachelheldevans, Twitter 28.02.19

The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up. Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record—that’s what draws attention, gets us on the front page of the newspaper, and offers us the rewards of money and fame.

The way of Jesus is radically different. It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility. It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place! Why is the way of Jesus worth choosing? Because it is the way to the Kingdom, the way Jesus took, and the way that brings everlasting life. — Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, p.186 (https://henrinouwen.org/meditation/downward-mobility/)

The transfiguration is something any old atheist could understand: ‘glory’ is a body and face shining with supernatural light. This does not unsettle my pagan presuppositions of what ‘divinity’ and the ‘supernatural’ mean. What we need faith to see is this: that the dead Jesus, forgotten and abandoned, naked and hanging on the Cross, is truly the Love of God Incarnate. In the wounding of his fragile being is the fullness of the divine glory. He is not ashamed to be our God. — Brad Jersak, A More Christlike God, p.135

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There’s a tradition in preaching on the Transfiguration of Jesus, that we talk about ‘mountaintop experiences’ that we take down to our everyday lives on the plain.

So where do we start today, on this Day of the Transfiguration of Jesus? Do we start on top of the mountain, along with Peter, James and John, with Moses and Elijah in glory? Do we begin bathed in the reflected heavenly light coming from Jesus? Do we start with a privileged glow mixed with strange feelings of awe or even dread?

Well no, not today. Today, we must start on the ground, along with the helpless, hapless and confused disciples who couldn’t expel a demon from a young lad, the only son of his father. That’s where we are today, at the bottom of the mountain. 

We have to start—and stay—on the ground today because as Christians in Australia, as members of a mainstream church, many people see us as representatives of something that is not only wrong but despicable. There’s a man I know who frequents the same coffee shop I do. We get on, we pass the time of day. The first time he saw me in a clerical collar he wondered if I should be wearing one, because it could make me look like a ‘paedo’. 

This week, Cardinal George Pell was found guilty of child sexual abuse. The charges relate to acts committed in 1996, while he was Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne. Pell had forcefully denied all charges, but now that a media ban has been lifted the news is known within Australia. 

A number of prominent figures have leapt to his defence, he will mount an appeal, but the fact remains: today, Pell is a convicted child abuser. 

We have to stay on the ground and not go to the mountain today because last weekend one of our sister churches in the USA, the United Methodist Church, discussed the place of LGBTIQ people in their church. Their special conference began with hopes of full inclusion of people regardless of their sexuality. Instead, the conference voted to accept the so-called ‘Traditional Plan’ which keeps the current exclusions of LGBTIQ people in place. 

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Why read the Bible?

God our refuge and strength,
you call us to give ourselves to Christ,
whether life is long or brief;
ground us in your love
and anchor us in your grace,
that we may find peace and joy
in knowing you;
this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Readings
2 Samuel 6.1–5, 12b–19
Mark 6.14–29

 

The biblical scholars I love to read don’t go to the holy text looking for ammunition with which to win an argument or trite truisms with which to escape the day’s sorrows; they go looking for a blessing, a better way of engaging life and the world, and they don’t expect to escape that search unscathed. — Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, Kindle Ed., p.28

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I want to ask a deceptively simple question today: 

Why do we read the Bible?

I’m reading a wonderful book by Rachel Held Evans, called Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again. In her book, Rachel speaks of her rediscovery of the Bible after losing her love for it for awhile. 

She was brought up in the American Bible Belt, which has a fairly intense relationship with the Bible. I have had a similar experience, and I know some of you have too.

You see, after I became a Christian in 1968 at a Billy Graham rally, my best friend at school invited me to his church. So I went. His church was a Brethren congregation, which I only found out once I got there. I’d heard bad news of the ‘Exclusive Brethren’, but I was assured my friend’s church was part of the ‘Open Brethren’. I soon settled in, because I was hungry for teaching. 

If you don’t know much about the Brethren, think of them as ‘Baptists on Steroids’. In particular, they are fundamentalists who generally believe the Bible is inerrant and that it cannot contradict itself. The Brethren are really heavy duty. Yet they helped me to gain an excellent Bible knowledge.

But why did I read the Bible?

Back then, my answer would be to gain knowledge. I would have said that the Bible is the only source of knowledge about God.

I soon learned that there were people who were in error, people like Anglicans and Catholics, not to mention Methodists and Presbyterians. So I read the Bible to marshal arguments against such people. The Bible became a ‘blunt instrument’ for me to whack them about the head with. I loved to win arguments against those who were just plain wrong. It could be very satisfying.

In time, I became a little tired of this, especially as I began to see how much I could hurt people. But I didn’t know what else to do. 

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A blessed stranger (Easter 5B, 3 May 2015)

Reading
Acts 8.26–40

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.…The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
1 John 4.1, 21

At the beginning of our service, we prayed a Prayer of Invocation which came from Korea. It began:

Stay with us, blessed stranger,
for the day is far spent,
and we have not yet recognised your face
in each of our sisters and brothers.

Philip the deacon met a stranger, a blessed stranger, on the wilderness road from Jerusalem to Gaza. And Philip saw the face of Jesus in the stranger’s own face.

This is part of the fulfilment of Jesus’ words to the disciples in Acts 1:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

The Book of Acts is about the way the Good News of Jesus spread in those early days of the Church. At first the message was heard in Jerusalem, and then in Judea; those who were part of the covenant people were to hear it, and respond. Which they did.

But the message couldn’t be contained to the people of the covenant. It burst those boundaries, like new wine bursting old wineskins. They proclaimed it in Samaria, where tainted people lived because their ancestors had violated the covenant.

And then the next step comes: the ends of the earth. Total non-Jews. And so we come to the first recorded time that someone from “the ends of the earth” heard the Good News of Jesus.

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A wholehearted woman—11 November 2012

A non-lectionary reflection today as the congregation remembers a woman who showed us what it is to be a disciple of Jesus, to mark the occasion of laying a plaque in her memory in the church garden.

Readings
Proverbs 31.10-17, 28-31
John 4.4-15, 28-30, 39

 

Wholehearted living is…the journey of a lifetime…courage, compassion and connection—the tools we need to work through our journey.

Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

We heard some verses from Proverbs 31 today. We don’t often dip into this chapter. In fact, I ducked preaching from it when it came up in the Lectionary readings about six weeks ago! How can any woman, even Lynn, live up to this idealised picture?

Did you notice we changed the words of the NRSV? It begins this way:

A capable wife who can find?

But Karen read:

A woman of valour who can find?

‘Woman of valour’ seems to be a better translation of the original Hebrew. (This insight comes from A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. I thoroughly recommend that you read this book!) And while I know Lynn was a more-than-capable wife to Gary, to all of us she was a woman of valour.

But what about this Proverbs 31 woman of valour? How can any woman ever match up to a woman who ‘rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls’…[who] ‘considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard’…[whose] ‘lamp does not go out at night’, [and whose] ‘household are clothed in crimson’. (And I don’t even like wearing crimson!)

The thing is, the Proverbs 31 early to rise–late to bed–busy all the while in between–woman isn’t meant to be an example of what women should do. She is an example of a ‘woman of valour’ or—as I want to say—a wholehearted woman. (I found this word in Brené Brown’s wonderful book, The Gifts of Imperfection. Read it too, and anything else you can find by her!)

A woman of valour isn’t someone who drives herself and those she loves mad by working 25 hours a day. A woman of valour lives wholeheartedly. She gives from her heart, and receives from others the same way. Lynn was a wholehearted woman.

And interestingly, in the Jewish tradition the women don’t memorise this poem about the Wholehearted Woman. The men do! Husbands are encouraged to sing it to their wives every week at the Sabbath meal. (I’ll have to practise. A lot!)

So often people have changed this poem about the Wholehearted Woman in Proverbs 31 into a job description. It’s not, it’s a song of praise to wholehearted women. Like Lynn—and so many others right before my eyes today.

Brené Brown suggests three qualities a wholehearted person needs. And Lynn had the these three qualities in abundance: they are courage, compassion and connection.

Lynn had the particular kind of courage Brené Brown means: the courage to speak straight from the heart. You always knew where Lynn stood on something! In speaking from her heart, Lynn allowed her inner self to be more transparent. She made herself vulnerable to the opinions of others. That’s courage.

To have compassion is to suffer with another. That’s what the word ‘com-passion’ means. It’s not always our first response to people who are in pain; sometimes, our instinct is to walk away or change the subject. Lynn had a heart of compassion. We saw that in her desire to reach out to people, especially young people, in Zambia and India. I also saw it personally while I was going through a time of depression. Lynn gave me her time and supported me, even while she found it hard to understand. She did that in the midst of her own trouble and distress. I never felt any criticism or judgement from Lynn. Just compassion.

Lynn was great at connecting with people! She let others into her space literally and figuratively. You knew you belonged. Lynn had an inner strength that she shared with others. At the same time, she valued what others gave her. You knew you were valued.

The courage to tell our story, the compassion to give our time, the sense of connectedness with one another, are everyday practices to embrace on the journey of our imperfect lives. They build community and help us to build something beautiful, even where there is pain.

Let’s turn very briefly to the woman at the well. All I want to say today is: she also had these three qualities of courage, compassion and connection.

The way she responded to Jesus, the way she ran to tell her friends and family about him mark her as a woman of courage, a woman of compassion, a woman who connected with people. She—like Lynn—is a model for us to follow.

How do we gain these qualities of courage, compassion and connection? By entering into life, into relationships, wholeheartedly. By practising daily. By knowing we’re imperfect, but that with the Spirit of Jesus we have all we need. So how do we practise these things? By doing them. Brené Brown says you learn courage by couraging, compassion by compassioning, connection by connecting. She’s right.

We’ve heard a lot about Lynn today, a lot about a woman who wanted God to mould her into the person God wanted her to be. We can share that wholehearted openness to the Spirit that she had.

I think Lynn would disown a lot of what I have said today. She’d point out other people who are wholehearted in their approach to life. And she’d be far more aware of her faults and shortcomings. She shared those with us too! But we have been speaking of what God can do with a life given to him. God can work in each one of us just the same, so let us give our lives wholeheartedly to God today. Every single day of our lives, we too can learn courage by couraging, compassion by compassioning, connection by connecting.

 

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